Thursday we drove our daughter, Nicole to Billings where she's starting Rocky Mountain College. Originally, we were going to do a turn-around trip, which would have been 16 hours of driving. Since we were towing Nicole's car on a trailer behind our van, we couldn't bring our travel trailer with us. Hotels were too expensive, so I got this crazy idea of staying in our tent. We've had a tent for years, but haven't used it since the 90s when the girls were little. One thing I've always said was that I would never tent camp in Montana because of bears and yet ... I came up with the idea of taking the tent. The boys had never tent camped, so we figured it would be fun.
We got Nicole to college and waited for her to check in so we could see her room. Her roommate was already getting settled in. One nice thing is that her roommate is from where we live so they already know each other. After we saw her room, we said goodbye and started on our journey back. We stopped at ToysRUs because we don't have that where we live. Then we headed from Billings toward the town of Red Lodge, which is where the famous Beartooth Highway is. I'd never been on the road before, but I'd heard it's one of the most scenic in the country.
We had reservations in a small forest service campground just off the highway and along a creek. I have to be honest when I say I was nervous about sleeping in a tent in bear country. We took all necessary precautions of course, but it was still unnerving. We're RV campers now, so we don't have all the equipment that we used to have when we tent camped. We made do and in fact, I don't think we forgot anything, which was surprising. Our campsite was great and probably the nicest one in the campground.
We cooked our dinner over the campfire, which was a little tricky because it started to rain. That wasn't that big of a deal and it was clear for the rest of the night. I had forgotten what it was like to sleep on the hard ground. I'll never complain about the bed in my trailer again! It was one of those "nights that never end" though. Even Rick turned and said that to me in the middle of the night. I think we'd fall asleep for about an hour and then wake up. When I opened my eyes and saw that it was finally morning, I almost wanted to squeal, "Woohoo! We survived!" That's how I felt, but of course I didn't say that because I didn't want to freak the boys out. The creek was so loud that if something had crept up on us, there's no way we would have even heard it. I guess in hindsight, that was a blessing in disguise.
We got up early -- not having a bathroom will do that to you -- and headed along the Beartooth Highway. I knew it was going to be scenic and high up, but I had no idea. The eastern side was just wild with switchbacks winding up to 10,947 feet. We stopped for pictures a few times and let the boys wander around in the tundra a bit. They'd never been up that high. Rick was bummed that it didn't go to 11,000 feet, so he climbed this big pile of rocks on top of the summit. According to his iPhone, he hit 11,005 feet. I got a picture of him as he threw his arms up in victory. Then we worked our way down and that's when the scenery really took off. It was surreal. I kept saying it didn't look real and that it looked man-made, almost like Walt Disney created it for Frontierland. What an absolutely beautiful place!
We worked our way into the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, where we were planning on spending one night. We drove through the Lamar Valley, which was great because we rarely get up that far when we come into the park from the other entrances. We saw lots of herds of bison, some Pronghorn, and birds, but that was about it. We stopped at a picnic area for lunch and heard a bald eagle flying nearby. Eventually, we got into Canyon, which is sort of in the middle of YNP and where we were camping for the night. It was a much bigger campground than the previous night and for some reason I wasn't as nervous there.
The next day we spent time in the Canyon area. The first thing we did was head to the showers. I think the shower lady was my favorite person in the park this trip. It was the best $3 I've ever spent! I'll never complain about my little bathtub in my trailer again! Then we saw the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We did some quick hikes and had lunch at a really nice picnic area. After that we worked our way up to the Mammoth Hot Springs area and saw some of the thermal features. There was a large herd of elk lounging around by one of the buildings, so I got some pictures of them. They're not that great because they were taken in front of cars and buildings, but it was still fun to see them. One male had a really large rack. I also got some good pictures of magpies, so I was happy. From there we headed out the North Entrance where the famous Yellowstone Arch is with the sign that says: For The Benefit And Enjoyment Of The People. Right before we got to it, we were turning a corner and there were two young bighorn sheep in the middle of the road. I got a few good pictures of their butts -- nice angle, guys.
It was a quick trip and not really a true vacation so to say because our main goal was getting Nicole to college. Even so, it was a lot of fun and we got to see things we had never seen before, not to mention experience things we'd never experienced before. We'd never been to YNP in August and I loved all the wildflowers, not to mention we had perfect weather. I still like tent camping, but it's way different in bear country. It's hard to go back once you get used to traveling in an RV. All the same, we had fun. It was especially interesting for me because of my middle grade novel, Encroached. That's about two young girls who sneak out of their house to tent camp in the Montana wilderness. I thought about that story a lot on this trip -- from watching the shadows on the tent at night, to listening to noises, to driving by the Soda Butte campground where a fatal grizzly mauling took place last year, which basically inspired a lot of my story. Here is a slideshow of some of my photos -- from Nicole at college all the way to leaving YNP.